Michigan, particularly its weather, is a place of contrasts. Hot, then freezing. Windy, then calm. I learned this – and much more – while camping this past week with my family.
But if you want to see this state’s true beauty, there is no better way than through four solid days out of doors. When you sit quietly under the trees…when you watch the waves roll in…when you canoe slowly down a winding river…then you know you’re living the dream, Michigan style.
Here’s how it all started: My husband borrowed a tent and all related equipment from his co-worker. We picked up some food and other supplies. We bought some firework from roadside stands, where honor boxes declared “1 for 3, 2 for 5.” Then, just two hours later, we were far from the city and its bright lights. We were in the dirt, sand and ashes of Port Crescent State Park, just outside of Port Austin.
Some background: My parents were born and raised in the Thumb area of Michigan. My father was the city boy, raised the son of an auto-dealership owner in majestic Bad Axe. My mother grew up the daughter of a bean farmer in fair Verona (really, I couldn’t make this stuff up. Look on your map and you’ll see these are real city names. When I was a grade-schooler, we moved to Romeo. My folks have a penchant for the strange.)
We camped throughout my childhood. I am one of three kids, and we would partner up with my aunt’s family, which had another six. The nine of us would roam Sleeper State Park like gypsy children, collecting cans so we could return them and use the money to buy ice cream and candy on the sly. Then, we’d invade the campsite, demanding dinner and s’mores and fruit pies, please.
My husband was an avid camper as well, exploring half of Canada and most of the United States with his family. Add in the Boy Scouts, and his love of nature is as much a part of him as his baseball cap. He talked me into camping this summer, and I hesitantly agreed. We have two tots, and they’re not exactly quiet personalities. So that is why we picked the week before the Fourth of July holiday to go…there would be fewer people in the campground to terrorize.
Here’s what we learned during our days under the sun: Teamwork matters. Hot water is a luxury. You don’t need a refrigerator or oven or microwave to survive. And, somehow, we stayed entertained without the help of television, computers, iPhones or DVDs. We played Battleship, talked to our neighbors, colored with the kids at the next campsite and looked at the constellations, which were brighter than I had seen them in years.
I also learned my children are far more resilient – and far wimpier – than I imagined. They’re partial to baths still, and having to take a camp shower in well water really ooged them out. I learned my 6-year-old son possesses much more creativity than I realized, especially when he created an entire storybook turning the campground chipmunks into paramilitary soldiers.
We all learned that manners are important, especially when the neighbors forget to turn off their alarm clock– and they’re on a road trip until 4 p.m. We learned there are lots of cool bugs out there. We learned that early to bed really did mean you’d be early to rise – especially when you’re sleeping in a tent without benefit of a roof or window shades.
All in all, it was a wonderful, bonding experience. It brought us together more as a family – although I’m sure the neighbors didn’t believe it when we yelled at the kids to stop chasing one another with the hot marshmallow-toasting sticks. It brought me back to nature, closer to a state that I dearly love. When you’re living outdoors, you have to appreciate the shade, the sun, the wind and the water a little more.